Wed Sep 12, 2001 | day 2
I cannot tell you what an emotional rollercoaster yesterday was. Without a second thought, yesterday was both the happiest and the saddest days of my life.
I'll start with the happy part. I landed at CDG Airport at 10:30a French time (1:30a PST Tuesday, Sept 11) and all the travel information I had read and studied for the last 10 years seemed to have been wiped clean from my brain. (dont worry - most have it has been recovered) After wandering aimlessly looking at the French signs, I found the metro and proceeded to Paris, some 25 minutes away.
I walked out of the St-Michel / Notre Dame exit into my dreams. It was fantastic! I had been dreaming of this moment for so long, it was hard to tell if it was real or not. I would have asked someone to pinch me, but I did not know how to say "Excuse me, can you pinch me? I think I am dreaming" in French.
For the rest of the afternoon, I meandered around Paris getting lost. I have always hoped I would get lost in Paris and find a nice out-of-the-way place. I did this many times today. I visited the Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, and other places that looked magnificent but I will not know the name until I take out my guidebook and search for it (no time for that!)
At around 3:40pm (6:40a), I called to get the bad news from Mom. At first, I couldn't believe what she was saying. After the phone call, I went to the restaurant at the camp site I am staying at and asked if I could turn the TV on and watch the news. I was in complete shock. I walked out of the restaurant, collapsed into a bench, and began to weep. I had never felt so bad.
Later that night, I forced myself out of my slump, took a nice hot shower, and returned to the center of Paris where I visited the beautifully lit Eiffel Tower. I have seen countless pictures, paintings and movies with the Eiffel Tower in it, but none of them capture the foreboding, yet beautiful presence of the work of art. I saw many Americans walking around the City of Lights, and my thoughts went back to my friends and family in the States. I did not have the strength to tell these travelers what a state of disaster things are in back at home.
In the morning (today), I woke up around 10am (I was *really* LOST in Paris until 1am) and talked to my new friends at the campsite. I met a German couple, Martin and Moni, who were on "holiday" from college. We immediately became friends. I met up with them at 3pm and we returned to the Notre Dame.
Throughout the day, especially in the morning, my mind went back to the US. I stopped by a newsstand and bought a French newspaper which had many pictures of New York on September 11. I had trouble walking down the street because I would begin to cry. The weather here is both is slightly windy with beautiful clouds rolling quickly over the sky. My emotions are the same. Walking through Paris for me right now is like I am watching a great movie ... for the 1000 time. It has moments where you can't help being happy, but then someone on the metro, bus, or on the street asks you if you are an American. "Yes," I say proudly. "Oh,' says the stranger, "I am sorry..." And then it hits me again - the realization that it wasn't a nightmare, it wasn't a movie. It really happened and it is effecting the heart of the world.
Tonight I went with Martin and Moni to the Louvre. The lines were too long so we decided to instead walk down the Seine to the Ile De La Cite, home of Notre Dame. As we entered the famous cathedral at 5pm, there was a note posted: "Tonight at 6.30, we will be having a service to remember those lost yesterday in the United States" I told Martin and Moni that I would not be going with them to the other planned stops and that I would be attending the service. They understood without a word and they soon departed.
As I sat in the third row, I watched the service go from just about empty at 5pm to full at 6:30. I looked around and could sense that many of the people there were French. But there were a good percentage of Americans. I sat about 15 feet away from all the major political leaders of France. I don't remember their names even though a elderly gentleman (retired political leader and friends with Notre Dame's high priest) sitting in front of me told me who they were.
The service was almost entirely in French. That did not slow down my tears or the tears of other Americans around me. After the 90 minute service, we were invited (in English) to place a candle upon the stairs to the alter in memory. In no time, there were hundreds of small candles glowing in the front of the great cathedral.
After the service, I wandered over here, to an Internet cafe in the Latin Quarter. I am trying to stay positive and happy. It is hard. Half of me thinks I should be back there in the States, where I can be with my friends and family. The other half tells me that of all the places in the world to be when IT happened, Paris isn't such a bad place to be in.
I thank you for all of your messages guys. I am sure that the emotional level over there is immeasurable. I will continue trying to be positive in this hard time and I hope you will too. I don't know what the high priest of the Notre Dame said in his service, but of all of the words that the French priest said, I only understood one of them that he repeated many times: "Amour." Love.
Mom - you can stop emailing me - I'm alive. :-) Just kidding! I appreciate the news updates from you. Other than a half hour ago where I got the chance to read CNN.com, everything is in French. I will try to call you today in your late morning.
Love you all,